Pisidian Antioch (‘Antioch in Pisidia’) was the Roman capital city of Galatia Province. Sitting at about 3,600 feet, this area was known as a cosmopolitan lake district. By the middle of the 1st century AD, the city and surrounding villages had a population of nearly 100,000 people, including Galatians, Phrygians, Greeks, Jews, and Roman army veterans. Pisidian Antioch enjoyed the highest category of status among cities in the Roman Empire and many residents of the city were given Roman citizenship.
One motivation for Paul coming to Pisidian Antioch may have been to visit the family of Sergius Paulus, who had a large estate northeast of the city. The family was prominent in the region, and one Latin inscription found at Pisidian Antioch even mentions L. Sergius Paulus, who could have been the same proconsul that Paul and Barnabas met on the island of Cyprus. Since this important Roman leader became a Christian, it would make sense for Paul and Barnabas to seek out his family for a visit.
When Paul and Barnabas entered the city they would have passed through a monumental triple gate known as a “Propylon.” The Propylon at Pisidian Antioch was erected in honor of Roman Emperor Augustus and was decorated with reliefs of gods, goddesses, winged beings, and warfare. As Paul and Barnabas walked through the massive gate, they would have seen many grand buildings, foremost of which was the Temple to Augustus.
According to a Latin inscription of no later than 50 AD, there were at least 3,000 feet of paved streets. Like other Roman cities, Pisidian Antioch was built on a grid system, and had all of the typical public buildings, pagan altars, and statues. Statues of Roman Emperors Augustus and Tiberius have been found at the site, and would have been on display in the city during the time of Paul’s visit.
In Acts, Chapter 13, we learn that after Paul and Barnabas arrived in Pisidian Antioch, they reached out to the Jewish community here. On the Sabbath, they entered the synagogue and sat down.
After the reading from the Law and the Prophets, the leaders of the synagogue sent word to them, saying, “Brothers, if you have a word of exhortation for the people, please speak.”
Standing up, Paul motioned with his hand and said: “Fellow Israelites and you Gentiles who worship God, listen to me!” (Acts 13:15-16)
Paul went on to tell the history of the Israelites and everything pointing to the arrival of Jesus Christ. He shared the power of Christ’s death and resurrection for both the Jews and Gentiles.
“Therefore, my friends, I want you to know that through Jesus the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you. Through him everyone who believes is set free from every sin, a justification you were not able to obtain under the Law of Moses.” (Acts 13:38-39)
On the next Sabbath, almost the entire city gathered to hear Paul preach again. This meeting probably took place at the “Tiberia Platea,” a large central plaza with markets and shops, the ruins of which still exist. When the Jewish leaders saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy. They began to heckle and abuse Paul and Barnabas. But Paul responded boldly:
“We had to speak the word of God to you first. Since you reject it and do not consider yourselves worthy of eternal life, we now turn to the Gentiles. For this is what the Lord has commanded us:
“‘I have made you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.’” (Acts 13:46-47)
After this encounter, the Gospel started spreading among the Gentiles in this entire area. But the Jewish leaders weren’t done. They stirred up persecution against Paul and Barnabas and kicked them out of the region.